We are well into the time of year when holiday cooking and baking is on everyone's radar. Last year around this time I became so caught up in planning our holiday menus that I started to lose inspiration for simple, everyday fall cooking, and I've vowed not to let that happen this season. The good thing about this warmly-spiced, nutritious grain salad is that it fills both roles: everyday side (or main) dish as well as truly beautiful contender for the holiday table.
When we were young(er) and broke(r), I didn't know what to do about meat. I'm a meat eater and, nursing a newborn, I was always hungry. Fine. That's just an excuse. I'm just a big eater, lactating or not. I didn't want to subsist on rice and beans, and tofu wasn't all that cheap. The meat I craved was grass-fed, antibiotic and hormone free, and preferably from a nearby farm. The good stuff does not come cheap! Our $10 weekly vegetable co-op bag formed the base of our menu, and I learned to use meat sparingly.
Quince is the most luscious fall fruit, but not as widely known or easily found as it should be. It holds its secrets tightly inside; quince is very astringent and not pleasant to eat when raw, but when cooked with sugar it turns coral-pink and delicious. It's also very high in pectin, which means that it is practically perfect for sorbet. This fragrant sorbet, spiced with star anise and vanilla, is thick and smooth — more like a sherbet than an icy sorbet — and it makes a wonderful accompaniment to autumn gingerbread and apple cake.
My wife isn't the biggest fan of turkey... which is a polite way of saying that she hates it! "She's just never had a good turkey," you might say. Au contraire mon ami, she's had 'em done all the right ways from all the right people. Yet still, as far as she's concerned, turkeys can pack its bags and jettison on a private plane co-piloted by Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Off to Never Neverland!
For others who may be turkey disinclined, some options...
Mashed potatoes are one of my favorite comfort foods, and it's not hard to make them taste amazing. The easy way, my friends, is fat. A lot of it. I used to work at a restaurant where the cooks dropped a brick of cream cheese, a long swig of cream, and unmentionable amounts of butter into the joint's famous smashed potatoes. So there's that approach.
But I like to taste the potatoes themselves, and to pump them up in fresh ways, so this year on Thanksgiving I am turning to this recipe — golden mashed potatoes with a secret ingredient to give them flavor and unexpected color.
When we were kids, a day of winter romping was always — always! — followed by mugs of cocoa and a plate of buttered toast. This was a given. It was inconceivable that one would not be followed by the other.
In the spirit of all things cozy and warm, I give to you this bread pudding. It takes the best of cocoa and the best of toast, and puts it in a single, custardy, marshmallow-topped dish. You can make it ahead in anticipation of a special winter breakfast or serve it for an post-dinner (and post-romping) treat. Just like a mug of cocoa, it's a pudding works equally well for either occasion.
When my youngest sister was in grade school, she broke her arm. I don't remember how it happened, but I do remember she got to spend the afternoon in the hospital where, as she later bragged, she got two desserts with her lunch, as opposed to the zero desserts we were served regularly at home. Not fair! Actually, pretty fair in retrospect, since the desserts were likely lime Jell-O (which counts as a side at the hospital) and a dry slab of cake with waxy icing.
I adore Brussels sprouts but they can be tricky to cook just right, especially if one's attention is on lots of other dishes, as in the case of a holiday dinner. This Thanksgiving I've found the solution: smoky, lemony shredded and sautéed brussels sprouts! The sprouts can be shredded a day ahead and then get quickly cooked just before serving, eliminating any worry about soggy, under-cooked, over-charred, or otherwise less than yummy Brussels sprouts.
On Thanksgiving, I don't think any dish inspires quite as much love and jealousy as stuffing. Or, for that matter, technical debate over stuffing vs. dressing. Sure, if it's baked inside the turkey it's stuffing, and if it's not, it's dressing. But to me, it will always be stuffing — it sounds so much more satisfying than dressing, which brings to mind vinaigrette.
And on my table, the stuffing is always some version of this classic sage and onion mix. No cornbread, oysters, or dried fruit for me. This is Pepperidge-esque, Stovetop-style stuffing — but all homemade and full of toasty flavor from good bread, and savor from turkey stock. This recipe is surprisingly simple; in fact, why not make some tonight? It never hurts to practice your stuffing, whatever you call it.